Can you keep a secret? We can’t, so we are excited to share some of Columbia’s best hidden gems for food, outdoor adventure, and even a dose of culture. Just don’t tell anyone!
Outdoor murals — What began with Blue Sky’s Tunnel Vision, which caused such a stir when it was unveiled in 1975 that it was featured in People magazine, has turned into a beautiful trend. Today, more than 50 murals add color to outdoor spaces in Columbia. Some, like Chad Brady’s Five Points Postcard on Harden Street and Cait Maloney’s Lady Vista on Gervais are hard to miss. Others, including the alley off State Street that Christine Lutfy has transformed into a kaleidoscope of color, take a bit of hunting to find.
The Anne Frank Center — Open since this past September, the Anne Frank Center is the only North American outpost of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House. Filled with original artifacts and photographs, the center brings to life the persecution faced by Jews during the Holocaust. Reservations are required.
USC School of Music Recital Hall — When the University of South Carolina is in session, audiences can take in nearly 300 free performances in solo, chamber, large ensemble, and jazz in this 250-seat performance space. All are free and open to the public.
McKissick Museum — What started in 1823 as a repository for Thomas Cooper’s mineral collection, the McKissick Museum has expanded its purview to include 140,000 objects including cultural, natural, and decorative artifacts and fine art works that tell the story of Southern life. The museum is free and open every day but Sunday.
Food and Drink
Duke’s Pad Thai — If you can’t decide between Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese food, head to Duke’s, where dishes like Thai curry, Vietnamese pho, Thai-inflected tacos, ramen, and even cheese fries are living their most harmonious life in Cayce.
The Other Store — Everyone, it seems, has their favorite dish at this old-school gas station-turned-grocery that’s been doubling as a deli since 1982. Some go for the homemade soups, others the Greek turkey sandwich, which arrives scattered with black olives and dripping with dressing. Don’t miss the homemade cakes.
Saky Japanese Restaurant — Long before spicy tuna rolls became a grocery store staple, you could find them at this unassuming Japanese restaurant set in a low-slung brick building at the end of Fort Jackson Boulevard. Beyond pristine sushi, Saky is known for gyoza dumplings, teriyaki, and tempura so crispy it shatters.
Upper Crust Wood-Fired Grill — It’s all about the details at this easy-to-miss cafe, which shares a parking lot with an Exxon station. Pizzas are baked in a wood-burning oven; the chicken salad, pimiento cheese, salsa, and deviled eggs are homemade; and the beers are super cold. Brunch is an extravaganza of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, cheesy omelets, and creative mimosas.
W. Gordon Belser Arboretum — Tucked into a hill-strewn section of Shandon behind a thick tangle of vines and mature trees, this urban garden showcases 10 different plant habitats as well as a waterfall and a changing selection of exhibits. Note that the arboretum is only open on the third Sunday of each month, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.
Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve — Studded with bits of clay pots and spears more than 11,000 years old, 16th century artifacts, the remains of a colonial fort, and evidence of Revolutionary and Civil war battles, this in-town, trail-strewn preserve offers a deep dive into South Carolina’s history.
Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve — Though known for a sky-high viewing platform that offers remarkable views across the river into Congaree National Park, this 200-acre site is also a lovely destination for hiking; miles of walking trails loop through flood plain forest and into deep, shady ravines. It’s also popular with bird watchers, who come to watch bald eagles zoom over the Congaree.